Hyderabad is a city rich in history and tradition. The old city (Old Hyderabad) was once ruled by the Nizam, the ruler of the largest and most opulent princely state. Today, Hyderabad is in the competition with Bangalore and Chennai for the crown of India's IT capital. Hyderabad has many epithets like - City of Pearls, Biryani City, City of Smiles.
Although one can travel Hyderabad all year round, the best time to visit is between October and February. The climate is pleasant and bearable.
How to reach Hyderabad
Air - The Rajiv Gandhi International terminal, Hyderabad's international airport is well-connected with major cities across the globe. It is one of the best Airports in India.
Rail - There are three major rail heads in the city, namely, Hyderabad Railway Station, Secunderabad Railway Station, and Kachiguda Railway Station. These railheads connect major Indian cities like Bangalore, Chennai, New Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune.
Bus - The city is well-connected to its neighboring towns like Aurangabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Tirupati and Panaji. Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) manages the bus terminal in a well-organized manner.
Road - If you are traveling from neighboring towns like Aurangabad, Bangalore, etc. the best mode to reach is by Road. The simple reason is that it allows you to explore many things on the way.
Conveyance from the Airport
Riding a taxi is without a doubt the best way to reach the city center, which is about 25-30 km from the airport. The trip will take around 30-45 minutes. Estimated prepaid taxi fare to get to the city center would be INR 1000. You can also try Uber/Ola to get more competitive prices.
Getting around in Hyderabad
Hyderabad Metro Rail is the most cost-effective and convenient mode of transportation. Ola/Uber are better for good for long-distance travel. Avoid commuting by Autos here as they do not bill as per the meter reading and hence can be unreasonably expensive.
You can get a decent 3-star hotel within INR 2500 per night if traveling on a budget. I stayed at The Park. It is a five-star hotel offering one of the best views of Hussain Sagar Lake. It does not come as very expensive if booked well in advance. And the lake view from my Panoramic Suite was worth every penny.
When I entered the hotel premises for the first time, I found the metal exterior quite uncommon for a five star property. The PR person Kamalika then explained to me that the hotel is designed on the concept of Nizam. Even the working style has been inspired by that of Nizams. Many pieces of decor and paintings have been bought from the auction at Nizam's house. The staff is extremely well-groomed and helpful. I felt every single aspect of hospitality.
Lastly, the food...as the best things are told at the end. 'Verandah' hosts the buffet breakfast with a huge and delicious spread. Chef Arnob has taken efforts to keep the taste of the dishes suitable to tongues of different regions, without losing the authenticity. Fortunately, I had three mornings to taste and cherish every dish.
They have a Hyderabadi cuisine specialty restaurant 'aish'. The interior of the restaurant is beautifully done. Many photos and paintings hanging on the wall here have also been bought from the auction at Nizam's house. I am not boasting when I say that the food was simply luscious. I opted for their 9-course tasting menu. Every single dish had a rich flavor. If you do not have an appetite for the 9 course, you must try -
You should definitely opt for 'The Park' if you want to feel royal in the city of Nawabs.
Things to do in Hyderabad
I always had this image that Hyderabad is not a popular tourist destination in India. However, after visiting the city, I genuinely feel that it is worth spending 3-4 days in Hyderabad to immerse oneself in the charm that the city offers.
a) Most of the tourist attractions stay closed on Fridays.
b) Most of the tourist attractions charge extra for cameras (including mobile camera). It is better to buy the tickets at the entrance itself.
1) Golconda Fort
Golconda fort, once the capital of Quli Qutb Shah, is one of the grandest forts of India. Built around 12th and 16th century by various Qutub Shahi Rulers, this fort is more than 500 years old. The fort was renowned for its diamond trade and it is said that the world-famous 'Kohinoor' diamond was found here. It is worth taking a tour around the fort to see the sheer magnitude of the fort. The architecture is magnificent. The architecture of the fort is such that a mere clap at the entrance could be used as a distress signal thus alerting others of any unseen dangers. It is also said that there is an underground tunnel built to connect the Golconda Fort to Charminar as an escape route in case of any siege. There are many more facts and stories which can be best understood by hiring a guide.
Entry fee - INR 25 per person, Timing - 9:00 am - 5:30 pm, Time required - 2-3 hours
A few tips
a) The guides offer short tour(only till palace and back) and long tour (till the darbar and back) for INR 1000 and INR 1250 respectively. The long tour would take around 2 hours to cover. Take the long tour only if you will be able to trek for 2 hours
b) The guide rate is not fixed. So, you can bargain to reduce the same
c) Wear comfortable footwear, preferably shoes
d) If you go to Qutb Shahi tombs after Golconda fort, take a sharing auto @ INR 10 per person. Walk 150-200 meters towards left after exiting from the fort main gate. The fare otherwise is INR 100-150
e) There is 1 hour light and sound show in the fort that describes the history of the fort in a beautiful light and sound effect. Ticket price - INR 50 per person and Timing - 7 pm
2) Qutub Shahi tombs
This is one of the must-see places in Hyderabad. Various kings of the Qutub Shahi dynasty built these tombs and mosques for each of themselves during their respective reigns. In fact, its the only place in the world where all the emperors are buried in one place. The architecture of the tombs is a mixture of Hindu, Pathan and Persian styles, and is breathtaking. It is said that Aurangzeb, with his army, seized the fort during the reign of the 7th king, Therefore, his tomb remains incomplete.
These tombs convey, in a royal way that - 'Death is the ultimate truth of life'
Entry fee - INR 25 per person, Timing - 9:30 am - 6:30 pm, Time required - 1-2 hours
A few tips
a) Highly recommended to hire a guide. I found the history here far more interesting than Golconda fort. The guide will charge around INR 200-300 for an hour. You can contact Guide Swamy at +91 9440237508
b) The best time to visit is in the evenings3) Hatiyan Jhad/ Baobab Tree
3) Hatiyan Jhad/ Baobab Tree
This was the most exciting attraction of my Hyderabad trip. Inside the Naya Qila premises, there is a huge 600 years old baobab tree. Historians believe Arab traders gifted the tree (plant back then) to Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. Another belief is that the wandering Fakirs planted the tree. Local people call it as Hatiyan Ka Jhad as it resembles a group of elephants standing close to each other.
Not exciting yet? Well, the thrilling part is the room inside the tree. Yes, there is a room inside the tree that can accommodate 40 people. The saying also goes that this room was once home to 40 thieves (remember ali baba and 40 thieves?). They would hide inside the tree all day and come out at night to carry their activities. You can easily climb the tree and go to the darkroom.
Entrance is free and Timing - 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
A few tips
a) Morning is the best time to visit the tree
b) Carry a bright flashlight to click pictures inside the room. The mobile flashlights won't really work4) Naya Qila and Golf Course
4) Naya Qila and Golf Course
Naya Qila is an extended portion of the Golconda Fort. The Qila has become part of a golf course, making the access a little complicated for the general visitors. The whole stretch comprising of the Qila, golf course and the Baobab tree is beautiful and scenic. Unfortunately, we have not really explored this heritage site.
Entrance is free and Timing - 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
A few tips
a) Enter the main gate saying that you want to visit the Baobab tree and then walk towards the exit while returning. You will surely enjoy the modern heritage walk with the fort on one side and golf course on the other
b) Morning is the best time to visit here. An excellent slot to click great photos
5) Sudha Cars Museum
Surprisingly, this museum is not a part of most of the itineraries for Hyderabad. The museum is one of its kind and displays cars designed in various shapes. Mr. K. Sudhakar, a Guinness world record holder for designing the largest tricycle, has designed all these cars.' Ripley's Believe It or Not!' hs also featured the museum on their show.
Unfortunately, the maintenance of the museum is poor.
Entry fee - INR 50 per person, Timing - 9:30 am to 6 pm, Time required - 1-2 hours
These cars are just not mere designs. All these innovative designed cars are operational and are often brought out of the museum for roadshows where people can see them being driven.
6) Chowmahalla Palace
Also knows as Nizam Palace, the complex is clean and well-maintained. The palace was the seat of the Asaf Shahi Dynasty and was the residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad while they ruled their state. Shah of Iran's palace in Tehran was a model for this palace.
I found the royal court (durbar), known as the Khilwat Mubarak the most attractive. The ceremonies used to take place here under enormous chandeliers of Belgian crystal. There is Kilwat Clock above the main gate to Chowmahalla Palace which has been ticking away for around 250 years. The people of the locality wait for its chimes and correct their own watches by the accuracy of this clock's timing
Entry fee - INR 60 per person, Timing - 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Time required - 2-3 hours
The palace is ideal for history buffs and photographers.
P.S.: I could not take the camera inside and hence did not click any photos.
How can someone skip this Historic emblem when visiting Hyderabad? Charminar is undoubtedly an iconic symbol of the city's heritage. Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah built the monument in 1591. It is said that the Hyderabad region was fighting the plague when the king wanted to shift his capital from Golconda to the newly founded Hyderabad. He commemorated the end of the plague by building a mosque. This mosque was known as Charminar because of its four towering minarets. Hyderabad was planned around this centerpiece.
Entry fee -INR 25 per person and Timing - 9:30 am to 5:30 pm
The 'tentative list' of UNESCO World Heritage Sites include Charminar, along with Qutub Shahi Tombs and the Golconda Fort.
There is Laad bazaar sprawling around the Charminar. The market is famous for lac bangles. There is also the Pearl market next to Laad bazaar. Do visit them to feel the charm of the old city.
A few tips
a) You will find a few photographers around Charminar. Instead of taking a professional photo, you can ask them to click a photo from your phone for INR 10 per photo
b) Illuminated Charminar looks mesmerizing in the night. A good slot for great clicks
c) Do enjoy a cup of Irani Chai with Osmania biscuits at Nimrah Cafe and Bakery. You could also try a plate of assorted biscuits there. The bakery is beside Mecca Masjid.
8) Birla Mandir
The beautiful temple is located on a 280-feet-high hillock called Naubat Pahad. The Mandir is dedicated to the Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala. Statues of several other Hindu deities are also spread across the temple and given equal reverence. It took close to 2000 tonnes of white marble to build this stunning temple which was brought from Rajasthan. The architecture is a fusion of South Indian and Nagara Style and it took 10 years to weld these styles together and create this masterpiece.
The temple gives one of the best viewpoints in the city. It is so quiet and peaceful there at the top with only the wind touching you. Fortunately, I visited the temple on the Janmashtmi when the sound of 'Govinda' had filled the entire temple. It was just lovely to feel the energy around.
Entrance is free, Timing - 7:00 am to 12:00 pm and 3 pm to 9 pm, Time required - 1-1.5 hours
A few tips
a) The temple does not allow any mobile phones and camera inside. Deposit them in the cloakroom which is free of charge. b) Visit the temple in the evening time for the best view of the city
There are other famous tourist attractions to cover as well if you have more time in hand. Make it a point to visit Ramoji Fim city, Falaknuma Palace, Salar Jung Museum, NTR Garden, Hussain Sagar Lake, and Mecca Masjid.
9) Paradise Biryani
Hyderabad is synonymous with its world-famous biryani. The most famous joint is Paradise Biryani. Hyderabad trip isn't complete without treating yourself at one of the Paradise joints. There are around 16 branches in Hyderabad but the oldest and best one is in Secunderabad.
The biryani is mouth-watering. Every bite of the biryani is a bliss to a food lover.
Must try - Any biryani of your choice (I had the veg one), hariyali Kebabs and double kaa meetha.
Timing - 11 am to 11 pm, Cost for two people - 600 (approx.)
Try a variety of desserts made with Kaju, Anjeer, Badam, Ghee, Pista, etc. at one the best sweet shops. Do taste the paper-thin sweet 'Putharekulu' when in Hyderabad. Try both jaggery and sugar-filled rolls. The sweet is extremely popular for festivals, religious occasions, and weddings.
Dadus is right opposite Paradise, Secunderabad.
Timing - 8 am to 10:30 pm
10) Ram ki Bandi
It is one of the most famous dosa joints in Hyderabad. Ram Kumar Shinde, an MBA graduate, is the man behind this popular roadside stall. There are 3 wheelbarrows preparing about 8 dosas each. So, the capacity of serving 24 dosas at a time. I am giving this information because generally there is a crowd at the stall. However, with 24 dosas at a time, you won't have to wait for your order for longer.
The stall starts at 3 am in the morning and close by 8 am. Ditch your buffet breakfast at the hotel and go here to try the delicious dosas. The dosas are crisp and full of butter.
Must try - Cheese dosa, Double cheese dosa for the cheese lovers, Pizza dosa, Butter Upma, and Tawa idli
Timing - 3 am to 8 am, Cost for two people - 250 (approx.)
Hyderabad city will always remind me of the luxurious past of India. The forts and palaces are waiting to say its history. Do visit Hyderabad to listen to them.